By Doug Zeiters
-- I've enjoyed deer hunting for many years, so after a frustrating 2006 season of no bucks, a friend asked me to try turkey hunting with him. My friend, Ben Miller, is Amish and enjoys hunting, fishing, and the outdoors as much as I do. Since I didn't want to give up my time in the woods until deer season opened again, I agreed to give turkey a try.
This turned out to be one of my best decisions, if I do say so myself. Little did I know, however, after deciding to give turkey a try, how hard they are to hunt.
Ben quickly got me up to speed. We patterned my Remington 11-87, and he began my education of turkey and turkey calling. I learned that turkey hunting in Delaware is a restoration success story. Our state has progressed from zero turkeys killed in 1984 to over 4,000 today -- thanks in part to the NWTF. The state of Delaware requires hunters take a turkey hunting safety course, and you also have to enter a turkey lottery to hunt state land. Two problems I had to overcome quickly.
I retired from the Air Force on Jan. 1, 2007, after 24 years of service and started work for the Department of Natural Resources as an Environmental Scientist in Dover, Del. I made a call to the Fish and Wildlife branch, and they had some leftover permits for state land. I was able to get one, so I quickly signed up and completed my turkey safety course. I was now legal, and hopefully, I was ready!
My permit was for the second week of turkey season at the Milford Neck Wildlife area. I was allowed to hunt; I had a place to hunt; now I had to find out if there were any turkeys in the area.
I drove down to my assigned hunting area a couple of days before my season opened, pulled into a parking area, and was watching a field when I saw two dark shapes crossing another field, which I could see through a opening in the woods. All of a sudden, one of the shapes doubled in size. I grabbed my binoculars, looked, and sure enough, two toms were walking across the field and one was strutting.
How lucky can you get? Drive up, park, and see two turkeys.
The morning of April 21 was beautiful. Ben and I arrived early, crossed the field I had seen the turkeys in and set up. We had brought two decoys with us and placed them in the field about 25 yards away. Then we set up in a tree line at the edge of the field.
Ben accompanied me on my hunt, though his permit was for the next week in a different area, so he did not have a gun. I began calling, and we couldn't believe it ... gobbles everywhere. In the next half-hour, we had four different turkeys answering us. I was in a lower position than Ben. He told me two turkeys had entered the field across from us.
After a few minutes, I could see them coming. We called, they gobbled and strutted. Eventually, they came into our decoys. By that time, I was sweating bullets and shaking. I could see they were both nice size jakes, so I waited until I had a clear shot on the one doing the most strutting. Before I knew it, I had my first turkey, on my first day of turkey hunting -- 30 minutes after legal shooting time. How lucky can you get?
Delaware requires that turkeys be taken to a state check station. After checking in my harvest, we went back to Ben's farm, and he showed me how to cut off the fan and beard, which he mounted for me. The jake weighed 16 pounds and had a 5 1/2-inch beard. The best part was being able to share my harvest with Ben, his family, and mine. My first wild turkey dinner was delicious.
Because Ben is Amish, he declined to be in the picture with me, so I copied off the Ohio Amish Buck picture I saw online and put his hat in the photo with me. We both had a laugh at that. Ben's hunt was also successful. He harvested a turkey the next week at Taber State Forest in Delaware.
Fortunately, my turkey hunting story doesn't end there. I called my cousin Eric Hansen, who lives in Gardiner, N.Y., to tell him my story. Once he'd congratulated me, I was invited to go turkey hunting with him at his dad's cabin in the Catskill Mountains. I quickly accepted.
On New York's third day of turkey season, I was able to shoot another turkey. He could have been the twin of my Delaware bird - same weight with a 5-inch beard.
I'm now an addicted turkey hunter! I couldn't have dreamed up a better story. I'm looking forward to the 2008 season. I plan on turkey hunting in Delaware and neighboring Maryland with Ben, and, of course, New York with my cousin Eric. I owe all my success and thanks to my friend Ben for getting me involved in turkey hunting!